(Reuters) - South Korean Lee Mi-rim picked off seven birdies to take a one-shot lead with a seven-under-par 65 in the opening round of the Kia Classic in southern California on Thursday.
Lee took advantage of ideal afternoon conditions to head Yani Tseng of Taiwan by one stroke at the Aviara course in Carlsbad, while New Zealand’s world number one Lydia Ko and Australian Karrie Webb were among a group on 67.
Lee, 24, won twice in her rookie season on the LPGA circuit last year, and has already recorded a runner-up finish this season.
Korean-born players have dominated the LPGA this year, winning all six tournaments.
Tseng ended the day a stroke off the pace after an unlikely birdie on her final hole, where she fashioned a superb approach shot from a difficult stance in the rough and rolled in a six-foot putt.
The 26-year-old Taiwanese has earned five major victories but has not won an LPGA event since the 2012 Kia Classic.
South Korean-born Ko continued the sizzling form that has already lifted her to victories this year at the Women’s Australian and New Zealand Opens.
“I‘m coming in with a lot of confidence and know that my game is there. It’s always good to know that you can be aggressive and just to trust myself,” Ko, 17, told reporters.
“I’ve been playing pretty solid the last couple of weeks ... it’s a pretty cool streak.”
Webb, 40, had already won a British Women’s Open before Ko was even born, and she remains motivated by her ambition to represent Australia when golf returns to the Olympics next year.
“If I didn’t have that long-term goal, I don’t know if I’d be playing full-time right now, so that’s keeping me out here,” Webb said.
Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes